Ĺšankara and the Buddhists

Was Sankara a crypto-Buddhist? Was his identification as a Hindu religious reformer nothing more than religious hypocrisy? These questions seem essential to an understanding of Sarikara’s thought. Regretfully however many of the answers given to them are unsatisfactory. Their main weakness lies in their writers’ emotional involvement with the subject. Buddhists and their supporters try to point to Sankara’s total failure in understanding Buddhist philosophy, and consequently regard his ideas, for the most part, as a caricature of Buddhist ideas. Hindus and their supporters naturally regard such ‘accusations’ concerning explicit or implicit Buddhist influence on iankara as irrelevent. Any such accusation seems to his followers an attempt to reduce his greatness as well as his originality.  

The unbiased reader of Sankara’s writings who wants to understand the relation of &rikara to the Buddhists cannot possibly be satisfied with such answers, and is therefore bound to ask himself whether there is any objective  procedure by which one might discern the influence of the various Buddhist philosophies upon Sankara’s thought? 

One such objective method is proposed in Daniel H. H. Ingalls’ excellent article ‘sankara’s Arguments Against the Buddhists’, published in 1954.’ Ingalls’ suggestion is to observe the relation of Sarikara to the Buddhists by regarding, not his total canon, but rather his specific arguments against the Buddhists. Ingalls makes use of two methods, the first, ‘the comparison of the commentaries of Sankaracharya and Bhaskara on the Bmhma sutra’, and the second, ‘the comparison of the arguments Sankara uses against the Buddhists in his Brahma-sutra-bhasya with those he uses in commenting on the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad’.’ 

Applying these two methods, Ingalls attempts to distinguish between those of Sankara’s arguments which are part of his old Vedzntic heritage, and those which are original with Sarikara. Ingalls’ final conclusion is that

if we are to adopt a metaphysical and static view of philosophy there is little difference between Ankara and Vijiitiavada Buddhism, so little, in fact, that the whole discussion seems fairly pointless. 

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